Random Acts of Kindness

A moving sermon and a random act of kindness impacts the lives of the Darcys and changes the course of their story. What will be the final result for Elizabeth and Darcy?

A/N: I still have several epilogues for Incident. I also plan on revising the entire story to fix errors and improve certain parts. For now, a lighter story.

Prologue – a mysterious bequest

Fitzwilliam Darcy stood with his Uncle and Aunt Fitzwilliam, the Earl and Countess Matlock, and slowly sipped his coffee. The post-funeral guests had been greeted, condolences had been offered and received, and a seemingly endless stream of mindless conversations had been endured. Thankfully, only the crassest of the match-making mothers had tried to impose their daughters on him in this time of grief. The near proximity of his distinguished relatives probably helped to quell any such temptation. Of course, Darcy knew that it was only a temporary reprieve.

At twenty-three, Darcy was now the patriarch and master of a vast and powerful fortune. The Darcy family had lost their titles long before by choosing the wrong side of a political struggle, but they had regained, retained, and greatly added to their properties in England, Scotland, Ireland, and even in the Americas. It didn't hurt, at least in the minds of the match-making mamas and their hopeful daughters, that new Mr. Darcy was tall, broad-shouldered, and ridiculously handsome. Darcy was barely handling his grief and already felt like a fox in the hunt.

The last thing that he wanted right now was to involve himself with a woman. So it came as a surprise when, on scanning the crowded ballroom, his eye caught on a young lady with dark brunette, almost black hair, and captivating eyes. She was young, maybe fifteen, petite, with a light and pleasing figure. She was tanned more than was considered stylish for ladies and her dress was obviously not of the same quality as many of the first tier guests offering condolences. Yet something about her held his gaze… and then he realized that there were tears in her eyes; genuine tears. This young lady was truly grieving, and she was a complete stranger to him.

He had just enough time to realize that she was accompanied by an older, stylish couple before his attention was called away by his Aunt Matlock. She turned his notice to an older man, the Duke of Arlington, who shook his hand, offered his kind condolences, and invited Darcy to visit his estate sometime soon. Darcy remembered the man's son from Cambridge. He also recalled that the Duke had three unmarried and very abrasive daughters. Darcy was as polite as possible, but resolved to never accept that particular invitation.

By the time that the Duke had moved on, the young lady and her companions were nowhere to be seen. Despite admonishing himself not to, he frequently scanned the room for the next hour. Then, finally, as many of the guests had called for their carriages and departed, Darcy saw her. He spotted the fascinating young lady while looking through the window down to the lake. His attention had been drawn her in wonder was because he actually witnessed his bashful little sister, Georgiana, talking animatedly to the lady. And then he saw his sister hugging the older girl. Even more intrigued, he immediately started to walk towards the nearest exit, but then...

"Fitzwilliam!" a haughty, demanding voice rang out. Darcy groaned silently and fought the urge to roll his eyes. He turned to see that his other aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had finally risen from her slumber. Her usual habit was to rise early, so Darcy suspected that his Uncle Matlock had somehow arranged for something extra in her late-night draught. Otherwise, she would have spent the morning dominating the scene, as if she, and not Fitzwilliam Darcy, was now in charge of Pemberley. His father had warned his on his deathbed that his aunt had always had designs on the Darcy estates.

She was now taking up the largest chair in the room, which she had somehow moved near the fireplace in such a way as to suggest that she was holding court. "Fitzwilliam, now that the guests are departing, I believe that it is time that we discuss important issues: your marriage to my Anne, and my guardianship of Georgiana."

Thankfully, the Matlocks had anticipated their sister's actions, so they quickly stepped into the fray to support Darcy and quell Catherine's strident demands. The last will and testament would not be read until the afternoon. Lord Matlock was the executor and he knew every detail. Despite all of this, it still took another hour before the lady, a very generous term in Darcy's own mind, was temporarily quieted. The intriguing young stranger was forgotten.

At the reading of the will it was decided that, with the exception of his uncle, the other family members would only be privy to their own bequests. As expected, Lady Catherine threw a fit when Darcy and his cousin, Major Fitzwilliam, were named as the guardians of Georgiana. She also protested her removal from the proceedings. But Lord Matlock was her older brother and the patriarch of the Fitzwilliam clan. He held firm. She left. Darcy was glad that she did go, because it was then that the solicitor read the various bequests for family retainers and for others not directly related to the Darcys.

Catherine, being naturally grasping, saw no reason that family money should be given to servants or others. She had fought her own deceased husband's will, managing through stubbornness and artifice to retain many of the gifts intended for those who had been faithful to Baronet Louis de Bourgh. This shame was known to all of the family, so the elder Darcy had made sure that his sister-in-law would have no part in the distribution of his own will.

Darcy agreed with his father. He did not begrudge any of the expected bequests assigned in the will. George Darcy's faithful valet would live comfortably for the rest of his life. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, the respective butlers and head housekeepers of Pemberley and Darcy House, the London mansion, could retire quite well, if that was their desire. Other faithful servants, clergy, an artist, and several business associates, would benefit either monetarily, through the assignment of small properties, or in shares. Darcy was pleased to adhere to each of these provisions in his fathers will.

Only two bequests gave Fitzwilliam Darcy any cause for concern. The first was the assignment of the living for the Parson of Kympton, one of the two market towns that had risen centuries before under the Darcy family's domain. The intended recipient, George Wickham, had been Darcy's closest friend and ally during their early years. He was the son of Pemberley's faithful steward. The elder Wickham had served as a Lieutenant under Colonel George Darcy, had followed the elder Darcy into civilian life, and had become the respected steward of Pemberley and the factor for the other vast Darcy properties. When his son was born, he named him after his friend and asked George Darcy to act as godfather. When he had died suddenly trying to stop a fire at a tenant house, the godfather had stepped in and raised Wickham's son, even sending him to Cambridge with Fitzwilliam.

Unfortunately, by this time Fitzwilliam Darcy had seen traits in his childhood friend that caused the two to pursue different paths. George Wickham became fascinated with racing, gambling, drinking, and women. He seldom attended class, yet he used his remarkable charisma to keep from being sent down. He lived beyond his means, ran with a profligate crowd, and became convinced that he was entitled to more of the Darcy fortune. All of this would have been bad enough, but he also demonstrated a propensity for seducing young and impressionable girls. Had he been content to pursue the fast and willing, that might have been excused. Instead, George Wickham had begun leaving a trail of ruined and even pregnant young women wherever he went. He was the last person that Darcy was willing to inflict on the good people of Kympton. I hope that the incumbent lives for a long, long time.

The second bequest that bothered Darcy was a gift of five-thousand pounds to one Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of Hertfordshire. Darcy had never heard of this person and he was certain that there was no family relation. So who was this woman? As much as Darcy hated the thought, the most obvious conclusion was that his father had taken a mistress. He couldn't begrudge this to his father; his mother had died ten years ago, so it wasn't unusual for such to happen. In fact, among the Ton, it was almost expected. Yet it didn't fit with his father's character. From an early age George Darcy had addressed the issues of proper behavior towards women to his son. He had preached the concept of marital faithfulness and felicity. He had also discouraged Fitzwilliam from society's practice of taking a mistress or even visiting willing widows.

No, I don't believe that father… Except that, three years ago, his father had changed. For the first seven years after the death of his wife, George Darcy had seemed like only half a man. He went about his duties, but lived like a hermit. He visited with his children, but seemed almost the shadow of a father. And then, three years ago, he had suddenly become active again. He smiled more, spent time with his son, and finally seemed to cherish Georgiana. He still avoided balls, but he often attended other social events. He visited his son at Cambridge and even took him to visit his various estates during vacations. Their relationship became a friendship and the last three years had been a joy for Fitzwilliam. So when a sudden epidemic of influenza struck George Darcy down, it had come as a horrible blow to his children.

Fitzwilliam sat back in the chair that was now his, in the office that was now his, and closed his eyes for a few moments to remember the past three years. Well, if he did have a mistress, then this woman, Elizabeth Bennet, must have been good for him. I can't approve, but I also can't begrudge this bequest if she's responsible for bringing him back to life.

He decided to allow the solicitor to fulfill this final bequest without protest, and then turned his thoughts to other estate matters.

Chapter One – Surprising Returns

Even though his father had worked with him to ensure a smooth transition, it took several months before Fitzwilliam Darcy truly felt in control of the Darcy holdings. Despite this, he took a page from his father's final years and made sure to spend as much time as possible with his little sister.

Georgiana was a delight. In her younger years, without a mother and with a detached father, she had been shy and withdrawn. After their father's recovery, Georgiana had blossomed into a confident and even slightly impertinent young lady. Fitzwilliam was taken aback at first, but he quickly found that he enjoyed this more effervescent little person immensely. She had taken her father's sudden passing hard, but seemed to recover.

Fitzwilliam often took rambling walks with his lively little sister, both on the vast Pemberley trails and in the parks of London. They talked of many things and he was often surprised at the liveliness of her mind and the depths of her interests. Georgiana often spoke of or quoted a "Lizzie," a girl he assumed must be one of Georgie's school friends. The girl must truly be something, because she had gifted Georgiana with many words of wisdom. I'm glad that she's made such a wise friend, he allowed, with friends like that, she probably won't get into too much trouble at school.

It was after Georgiana's return to her finishing school that the Darcy solicitor requested an unscheduled meeting. Darcy ordered a lunch for two brought to his office and invited the solicitor to join him. Albert Williamson entered the office looking rather bemused, if not a bit sheepish. "Sir… I have a very unusual problem…"

For as long as Darcy had known the man, he had never seen him flustered, so he became more rigid in his chair as he asked, "What manner of problem?"

Williamson extracted a letter from his satchel and extended it to Darcy, "Well sir… it seems that Elizabeth Bennet, has kindly requested that we take back your father's bequest."

Darcy's eyebrows shot up. Several of the recipients of his father's posthumous beneficence had politely demurred before accepting, but nobody else had refused a bequest. "But it has been almost seven months since we executed the will. Why now?"

Williamson smiled with chagrin, "It seems that it has taken the young lady this long to convince her guardians of her point-of-view on the issue."

Darcy almost shot out of his seat at the word "guardians." Until this point he had been convinced that the lady in question was an adult… and he had reluctantly concluded that she must, in fact, have been his father's mistress. If she had guardians, then that couldn't be the case… but if not…"

Coldly, he demanded, "Just who is Elizabeth Bennet, Mister Williamson?"

Albert Williamson smiled, "Don't worry, Sir. She is not what you think. She was not your father's mistress, nor is she an illegitimate child, either of your father or of anyone closely related to your family." By this allusion, Darcy knew that Williamson was referring to George Wickham. He was ashamed for thinking the first, and relieved that it wasn't the second. Wickham had left several illegitimate children that Darcy was aware of. In fact, two of them were safely under the care of Darcy's largesse, a reality that he had concealed from his father.

In a much calmer tone he repeated, "Then, Mr. Williamson, who is Elizabeth Bennet?"

"She is a remarkable young woman, Mr. Darcy. But I think that the explanation for her connection to your family would be better coming from her own words. She included a letter for you which, though it might seem inappropriate to write to a single man in most contexts, I believe is apropos and acceptable in this instance."

Darcy looked at the letter on the desk. It was addressed to him in a neat, feminine hand. "Have you read this, then?"

"Not your letter, Mr. Darcy, but she included your letter in one to me. She felt that this step was necessary to ensure that you were willing to receive her letter to you in a proper frame of mind. Having read her words, I feel that it would be proper for you to accept this letter."

Darcy looked from the letter to the man, and then nodded. At that moment Mrs. Reynolds arrived personally with the lunch service. After thanking her, he turned back to Williamson, "As I might have questions concerning this letter, I hope that you won't mind if I read it now. Please serve yourself and enjoy our cook's fine food."

With an anticipation that he didn't quite understand, Darcy broke the seal on the letter and began to read:

Dear Sir,

I apologize at the outset for writing to you directly, but felt it necessary to personally explain the return of your father's bequest. It is not my wish to, in any way, belittle or begrudge his kindness towards me. However, I cannot feel right for receiving such an amount for what amounts to a random act of kindness on my part.

Perhaps I should explain. Three years ago…


Three years ago…

George Darcy walked little Georgianna over to Hyde Park in the early part of the day, before the Ton usually arrived to promenade, prance, and parade their finery. He had recently been strongly scolded by his brother in law, Lord Fitzwilliam, The Earl of Matlock, for his neglect of his children. These daily visits to the park were his answer.

When his beloved Anne had passed away after delivering Georgianna, George Darcy felt as if his world had lost all of its color and energy. He hadn't meant to ignore his children. He was very proud of his son, Fitzwilliam and his little newborn daughter. He just couldn't get past his grief. Each day was difficult and he went through it without enthusiasm or interest.

Days became weeks. Weeks became months… and then years. Family, friends, and even his bold housekeeper had spoken to him, but nothing seemed to shake him out of his numbness. Then Lord Fitzwilliam confronted him in his office one day and shook the walls with his anger, "Snap out of it, George! Anne would never forgive the way that you are ignoring your children! Georgianna barely even knows you!"

And so now George Darcy was at the park with his little girl… and he didn't have a clue about what to do next. Luckily the shy little girl loved the outdoors. He took a seat on a bench and she went down to the water to watch the ducks and play with the water. As he sat, he began to drift off in thought…

He never heard the splashes. He barely noticed the cries at first. Then something startled him out of his lethargy and he stood, searching for Georgianna. Suddenly a girl of about ten or eleven flew past him toward the water. Without even pausing, she jumped into the water. And then just as quickly she was coming out again hauling another little person who was choking and gasping.

By this point George was at the shore, arms out to receive his crying daughter. He held her close, crying with her and thanking God for saving her. When both of them finally calmed down, George looked over to meet Georgianna's rescuer. She stood there, dripping, flanked on by two fascinated toddlers. A bewildered woman dressed in a maid's uniform was wringing her hands behind the trio, bemoaning the reaction of her master, but the rescuer simply smiled a bright smile and looked at father and daughter with sparkling eyes, "Well then, Sir, I've done my good deed for today. It looks like your little girl should be fine now. We should find my uncle and go home so that I can change. Good day."

Naturally, George Darcy protested and delivered the little family to Mr. Gardiner personally.

And that is how George and Georgianna Darcy met little Lizzy Bennet. It began a friendship that would change many things… but that will be the rest of the story.

A/N: Before anyone comments that Cheapside is nowhere near Hyde Park, yes, I know. There is a simple reason that they were there on that day.

You might also notice that George Darcy thought the girl was ten or eleven. Lizzy was short, but she was twelve.

This story will post much more slowly, but I still hope that you will enjoy it.